This is it, the most affordable diesel-powered German luxury SUV – the Audi Q5 design –or, more specifically, the 2017 Audi Q5 2.0 TDI quattro S tronic design.
Call it what you will, this new entry-level Q5 appears to be a hugely appealing entry-point to premium German motoring in the popular mid-sized luxury SUV segment, where Audi has typically played a strong role.
In recent times that hasn’t quite been the case. The existing Q5 was getting pretty long in the tooth as other, newer competitors showed up – the Mercedes-Benz GLC, for instance, not to mention the Land Rover Discovery Sport, which is currently smashing all-comers on the sales charts.
But with the four-ring badge adorning the grille, this long-awaited new-generation model surely promises German engineering quality and luxuriousness – even if this new-generation model is built in Mexico, which is a helluva long way from Europe.
That could have something to do with the lower cost of entry into the Q5 line-up. This model kicks off the range at $65,900, and the car you see here has just one option fitted, a $350 load area rail system. That’s pretty tempting – I mean, considering you can spend upwards of $50,000 on a mid-sized SUV from a non-luxury brand, there’s certainly some appeal in being able to park an Audi in your driveway.
While the price is sharp, the equipment list isn’t scant – which is nice to see.
The entry-grade design model has 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights and tail-lights, auto lights and wipers, and plenty of other interior niceties. The goodies list includes leather-appointed seats, a rear-seat that folds 40:20:40 (handy!), smart key with keyless entry and push-button start, three-zone climate control with digital rear display, and an eight-speaker audio system with CD player and two SD card readers.
Of course there’s the requisite Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and DAB+ digital radio, satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech is standard. The media system is a cinch to get used to, with a crisp (if small) tablet display, and a rotary dial controller with a touchpad on top that allows you to scribble in letters when you’re entering addresses or contacts.
There’s plenty of safety stuff included as standard, as well. The Q5 has autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection that works up to 85km/h, a blind-spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alert, and the innovative Exit Warning System that alerts if a cyclist may be approaching, flashing a light on the driver’s door. Neat. There are eight airbags, too.
But – and this is a bit of a personal rant, rather than a reviewable criticism – ‘design’ isn’t the variant name I’d have chosen for it. It’s kind of plain looking, somewhat sedate. Understated perhaps, but it doesn’t look very design-y to me. The interior is typically Teutonic in its presentation – crisp lines, quality materials, good displays and cohesive graphics throughout, and blindfold-proof ergonomics.
Technically speaking, the design is sound. There is very good storage throughout the cabin area, including large door pockets, good loose item storage up front and in the rear, and a boot that is good for the class at 550 litres (but because this entry-grade version misses out on the sliding second-row seat, it doesn’t have the functionality of variants fitted with the Comfort Package, which can offer either better leg-room, or more boot capacity (610L), by way of a sliding seat system in the back.
That pack ($2200) also adds things you might expect at this price point, such as memory settings for the driver’s seat, and bits that are certainly desirable if not essential, including electric steering column adjustment with memory, heated auto-folding side mirrors with auto-dimming, and heated windscreen washer jets.
The space in the cabin isn’t pushing the field forward, either. Headroom is great, sure, but legroom is tight for the size of the car (my knees were touching the back of the driver’s seat, set to my six-foot driver’s position) and foot-room is a tad cramped due to the central transmission tunnel, too.
Up front the seat bases are quite uncomfortable. You feel as though you’re sitting on the seat, rather than in it, and it was enough to give this tester a numb bum after an hour or so at the wheel.
That numbness extends to the drive experience, which is best described – in motoring journalist parlance – as ‘uninspiring’. That may seem harsh, but there’s nothing the new Q5 does that resets the standard in the luxury SUV class. In fact, there are plenty of things it doesn’t do as well as its main competitors.
Let me quantify that statement.
It is nice and quiet at speed, particularly on coarse-chip surfaces, but so is a Lexus NX. And the ride quality is fine, but certainly not exceptional, for a car on 18-inch wheels with chubby 60-profile rubber. We’ve experienced better bump absorption elsewhere.
Under the bonnet of the Q5 design is a 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine with 140kW of power (3800-4200rpm) and 400Nm of torque (from 1750-3000rpm). Shifting gears is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle-shifters, and being a quattro model (as all the Q5s are), it’s all-wheel drive.
The diesel engine is refined in the way it builds pace, and the shifts of the dual-clutch auto are rapid-fire and linoleum smooth. But while it is a smooth engine at pace, so is the diesel Ingenium unit in Jaguar Land Rover’s stable.
Audi claims fuel consumption of 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres. We saw 7.3L/100km.
And while Tony struggled to find fault with the drive experience of the 2.0 TDI sport model he drove a few months back, that was on roads tailored to suit the Q5 at its launch. I can’t report the same in my good old city/country/twisty/highway loop.
In fact, the low-speed component of the test left me grimacing. It kind of reminded me as being similar to a rugby scrum, with that 'touch, pause, engage' thing the referee says.
There is palpable turbo lag and DSG hesitation when you’re taking away from a standing start, and it is super frustrating in traffic, because you might find yourself second-guessing the car’s potential to jump through a gap. The throttle pedal feel isn’t great either, with a lot of travel before you get any response, and the brakes are somewhat dull in their reactiveness as well.
The engine and gearbox are really quite good when you're out of first gear – because that's when it starts to do its best work: the shifts are quick and decisive and it doesn't hold onto gears too long particularly in the normal auto or come for drive mode.
While a Q5 base-model diesel customer mightn’t give two hoots about how the thing drives, for those who do, take note there are better SUVs to drive. Like, considerably better.
If you grab a fistful of lock and launch into a hairpin, the chassis responds decently. The quattro all-wheel-drive does offer good traction in the bends, and you can feel (and hear) the torque-vectoring system jabbing the inside brakes to help the car turn in with more veracity.
But the steering doesn’t have any meaningful feel to it, leaving you guessing as to what’s happening at the front axle, and there’s a vagueness on centre, a lack of involvement and engagement that makes it a bit disinteresting to drive. But, like I said, you mightn’t care.
Audi offers a reasonably priced service plan for the Q5, which includes three years/45,000km of servicing at a cost of $1870. The brand backs its cars with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with three years of roadside assist included at the point of purchase.
I have no doubt this entry-level Audi Q5 model will appeal to buyers who may not care so much about the drive experience as the price-tag and equipment list, not to mention the badge credibility that comes with the ownership of a premium German SUV. It’s hard to ignore the fact it’s the most affordable German luxury model in its segment.
But there are better options out there in this class, vehicles that seem to have more of a distinct purpose than this one does. If you like to drive, take a look at a Jaguar F-Pace. If you plan to get dirty, check out the Land Rover Discovery Sport. Want that touchy-feely posh experience? Test-drive the Mercedes-Benz GLC. And if you want the latest, you may wish to hold out for the all-new BMW X3, due in a few months.
Click the Gallery tab above for more images by Sam Venn.